Last week I had a beautiful reminder of one of the most important aspects of healing, in particular for men. I attended a fundraiser luncheon for the Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch. The Little Warriors is an organization that creates spaces (https://littlewarriors.ca/be-brave-ranch/) and programs for children who are victims of childhood sexual abuse. Their mission is truly inspiring. I was honoured to be able to attend with hundreds of other supporters. This was their 10th annual luncheon and a real milestone.
I forget how much I enjoy getting out and networking with others in this kind of community environment. I had been invited by a friend who had been trying to get me to join her for a few years, and the timing never worked out. The sense of community in an environment like that is quite remarkable. This a stark reminder of what we have all missed these last few years with COVID removing so many of our in-person events.
As human beings, we are hard-wired for connection. I work primarily with men and can see the effects of profound loneliness that many men feel, yet few are willing to admit. Most of us won’t admit it to ourselves, let alone those around us. I was intrigued to see this year’s keynote speaker, Paul Young. Paul is a New York Times Best Selling author of “The Shack.” more interestingly, he is a man who was willing to share his own journey of childhood abuse.
Paul shared a lot of nuggets of wisdom in his speech. He is a fabulous storyteller, and I can always tell an author by the wonderful turns of phrases they use to describe events, locations and people in their stories. Paul did not disappoint in this regard.
At one point, he shared a story about a shameful act that he had done and how coming clean meant admitting to his family and friends what had happened. He told the story of sharing what he had done with his father-in-law. I will not do it justice, but how he phrased the scene painted a colourful image. “When I told him what happened, I watched his heart break, seep out his eyes and roll down his cheek. No judgement, just love.” Again I am paraphrasing, Paul was more eloquent than that. It was a powerful moment in the story.
He told stories of shame and guilt and the difference between the two. “Shame is ‘I am something bad,’ and guilt is ‘I have done something bad.’” He talked about forgiveness and he talked about healing and love. He talked about the lies he had hidden behind and how to heal himself and his relationships, he had to become a ‘truthteller.’
There were many powerful takeaways from his presentation. The one that stood out the most to me was his simple statement, “The unrevealed remains unhealed.” In the context of men and masculinity, truer words have not been spoken. As a man, I know that I feel an inordinate amount of pressure to “be strong.” And while I think that “being strong” is a virtuous pursuit, I also believe that most define strength incorrectly. You can see 15 minutes of my thoughts on this in my TEDx “Redefining Badass: The Way Men Think About Strong is Wrong.”
Many view strength as ‘sucking it up,’ burying or avoiding much of what we actually feel. We think vulnerability is weakness and wear many masks to avoid showing what is happening inside us. We armour up, wrap ourselves in material pursuits and addictions, and carve away some of the deepest parts of ourselves lest we be judged ‘unmanly.’ We talk of courage as if it is all about pushing through and ignoring our trauma. Real courage is about having the strength to drop the armour, put down the masks and stand in front of that mirror raw, naked and fully revealed.
Our scars define us, they make us who we are. They are not something that needs to be covered up or ignored. They are to be explored, accepted and integrated into our whole self. “What remains unrevealed remains unhealed.” One of my favourite quotes by Eckert Tolle is, “With awareness, there comes choice. And so you are able to say: “I allow this moment to be as it is.” And then, suddenly, where before there was irritation, there is now a sense of aliveness and peace. And out of that comes right action.”
When we bury our true selves and hide our scars, we do so to the outside world and ourselves. And when we hide from ourselves, there is no chance for change.
I was 28 years old, at the peak of my career. I was making more money than I had in my life and, quite frankly, more than I would have imagined possible a few short years earlier. I had moved to a new town and was about to launch a new branch office set to lead the charge into a new province. Life was good. Until it wasn’t. It was October 3, 1997, when I got the phone call from the BC regulator. Eron Mortgage, the company I worked for, had been shut down for good. I would later learn this was the largest mortgage fraud in BC history—$240 million. A giant Ponzi scheme, it seemed. I was a new face, in a new town, with a new fiance; not only had I lost my job but also millions of dollars.
If ever there was a time for resilience, this was it. But, of course, I had no idea this was just the beginning of what would become a journey of resilience building in my life. While the details of my story may be unique, the need to adapt to unexpected change is not. No matter how well we script our lives, we can’t avoid the inevitable suck. This is true whether we are talking business or personal.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to be resilient. However, we appreciate that we don’t live in an ideal world. Challenges are inevitable regardless of how we plan, organize, and work our organizational plan. So the question becomes how can we create a culture of resilience within our organizations?
The difference between successful and unsuccessful organizations is how well they adapt and cope with change.
Here are a couple of well-known examples:
Netflix was a DVD rental-by-mail service which faced competition from established players like Blockbuster. However, Netflix adapted to the changing market and shifted its focus to online streaming, which became its primary business model. This move allowed Netflix to expand globally and become a leader in the streaming industry.
In contrast, Kodak failed to adapt and eventually went bankrupt. Kodak was a dominant player in the photography industry for many years, but the company failed to keep up with the shift to digital photography. Despite inventing the first digital camera in 1975, Kodak was slow to embrace the technology and instead focused on its traditional film business. This ultimately led to the company’s downfall, as it failed to adapt to the changing market and lost its competitive edge to newer digital camera companies like Canon and Nikon.
So how do we cultivate a culture of resilience within our organization?
Here are four things that are Paramount to developing a culture of resilience within any organization.
Curiosity over Judgement
We open possibilities by looking at the adversities thrown at us through the lens of curiosity rather than judgment. We create the opportunity to learn through the process and avoid being crippled by fear, doubt and indecision. Cultivating a culture of curiosity over judgment starts at the leadership level but will require an organizational shift in mindset. When the storm hits, we must ensure everyone on the boat is rowing their oars in the same direction. As leaders, we must cultivate curiosity through the good and bad times.
One way we can inspire curiosity is to invite it. We can ask our teams what they are curious about when we launch a new initiative. Invite curiosity, welcome questions, and encourage challenges.
Dr. Amy Edmonson codified psychological safety as the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.
When we create a psychologically safe environment, we allow our teams to speak up during times of crisis. We allow our people to use their skills and talent to help us navigate the crisis collectively. Empowering our people to take action without fear of reprisal creates a sense of agency, ownership and purpose, allowing individuals to be more resilient in navigating challenges and change. Knowing that ideas, beliefs, questions and concerns can be raised directly helps create a space of certainty within an otherwise uncertain world.
In the absence of information, people will fill in the blanks on their own. This can be incredibly damaging in times of crisis. In periods of uncertainty, while people are looking for clarity and direction, more communication from leadership is needed. Communication doesn’t necessarily mean that we have all the answers. It simply means that we as leaders are communicating the answers we do have and the questions we are still trying to address. This kind of communication, coupled with psychological safety, will further empower our teams to co-create solutions as we navigate through crises and challenges.
In 2008 I was the CEO of a national mortgage brokerage. That happened to be the year the world saw the global financial system collapse. Ensuring we communicated with our staff and customers throughout the unprecedented economic crisis and financial collapse was critical. Even when we did not have answers, we still communicated.
Creating intentional spaces for our teams to unpack whatever is going on allows communication to flow in all directions. Communication is not just about sending information out it is also about creating an environment where your team can actively share information, ideas and feelings.
Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
As leaders, this is one of the most powerful tools in our toolkits. When it comes to building a culture of resilience, we also need to foster an environment of emotionally connected (emotionally intelligent) individuals. When times are challenging, people react in different ways. Understanding what drives those reactions is vital to navigating change. You have likely heard me before talk about how emotions drive decisions, decisions drive behaviour, and behaviours ultimately determine our results. It is essential to understand our emotional makeup and those around us so that we can take action proactively rather than with a reactive approach.
One way leaders can help create emotionally connected team members is to start significant interactions (meetings, one-to-ones, etc.) with a “check-in.” A brief one or two-word “What feeling is coming up for you right now?” check-in can create a practice space for emotional intelligence and help foster psychological safety.
As you can see, all these competencies require ongoing practice. These are not tools that are simply pulled out when the need for resilience arises but skills that require continual practice. The time to learn how to swim is not when your boat capsizes. The time to learn to swim is before you get on the boat. The same holds for building a culture of resilience within our organizations.
Many men spend most of their lives trying to live the life they believe they are supposed to live. They are supposed to be the provider, the protector, the ‘man’. Most do this at a great cost to self. They suppress their own needs, wants and desires in order to be that version of self they feel like society wants them to be.
At some point this becomes problematic and requires adjustment. However, most of the time when men start to make that adjustment it gets labelled a midlife crisis. They start to experiment with what makes them fulfilled and sometimes that can be challenging. The real crisis is a society that demands men hide who they really are in order to fit some societal narrative of what a real man can be. Love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a note in the comments below.
This one little shift will drastically increase your ability to reflect and grow. This little tip for me was a real key in moving from self-reflection to true self-awareness. When it comes to building resilience and strength so much of it comes down to the language we use as we explore. In order to build our emotional fitness we can amplify the impact by shifting the questions we ask as we reflect.
When it comes to men’s mental health we all need somewhere to unpack what is going on in our lives. The challenge often can be that finding those spaces to do that is difficult. As men, we tend to like to “fix” things. This often kills the space required for exploration of feelings and patterns of thought. In this short video I share a beautiful story about finding that space to unpack.
Why do so many of us men resist the mental health label? This is a conversation we need to have much more of. There are some unique societal pressures on men that create some unique challenges which ultimately require us to take some unique approaches when it comes to men’s mental health.
Men everywhere are hurting. What are we doing to address the pain men feel and the harm they can ultimately cause when that pain is not dealt with?
I first came across the term “Embrace the Suck” in the context of Ironman Triathlon. My daughter gave me a henna tattoo that made that proclamation across my forearm when I competed in my first long-distance triathlon. I had no idea how important this phrase would come to be in my life. It has become a daily reminder to me to lean into adversity when it inevitably shows up.
We can carefully script our lives as best we can to try and avoid the “suck” but the reality is that life often has other plans. That hot August day in Penticton, reading those words tattooed on my forearm while I was cursing my life choices, helped set me up to navigate unimaginable adversity 3 short years later. I thought those last 10km of that iron-distance triathlon might be the most challenging thing I would ever face.
This video is an excerpt from the Love Letter to Men: A Celebration of Men’s Mental Health conference in February. In this panel discussion we talk about men and sexual abuse with two survivors and a licensed psychologist and author who works with men who have been abused. These are stories of hope and possibility.
Since January 1999, Wakefield Brewster has been known as one of Canada’s most popular and prolific Performance Poets.
He is a BlackMan born and raised in Toronto, by parents hailing from the island of Beautiful Barbados, and he has resided in Calgary since 2006.
has spoken across Canada, several States, and makes countless appearances on a regular basis in a variety of ways, for a myriad of reasons, throughout each and every single year. This 30 minute set was produced for a youth event I hosted. You can find more on Wakefield at his website WakefieldBrewster.com
Grief is often something we don’t associate with Masculinity and when we do, there seems to be an expectation of stoicism, strength and frankly – fixing it, not suffering with it. Together we are going to discuss how that shows up in our lives and in the lives of those who support men who are grieving.
FIFO work refers to remote camp work where workers are required to fly in and fly out to work and work away from home and their families.
This type of work poses unique challenges to workers and their families. The mental health struggles that can arise from the isolation from family, role transitions from work life to home life, societal stereotypes of masculinity and stigmas creating barriers to seeking help. We unpack all this through storytelling to give you a snapshot of FIFO life and to provide workers and their families with tools to thrive in this lifestyle.
On International Men’s Day I had the privilege of sitting down with three other men to discuss the importance of Men’s mental health and some of the challenges that we face as men. Even in our patriarchal society it is important to look at the price of the patriarchy on men as well as on women. I hope you enjoy!
As I sit here at my computer, with my Pomodoro Technique timer quietly counting down I sit staring at a blank computer screen. A list of a million different “things I could be doing” starts to form in my head. The procrastination monster is strong in this one my friend. I have so many different pieces I want to write. I have the beginnings of several books in my head, I even have some of them started. I have committed to publishing at least one article per week. There is no shortage of things to do yet somehow I still feel like I’m not even sure where to start.
For me this is one of the myriad forms of what “stuck” feels like. It comes into my life a lot and requires an immense amount of discipline to move through it. Discipline. That seems to be the answer for me.
For many of the clients I work with in a one on one coaching capacity, the reason they came to me is because of this feeling of “stuckness”. Often they come from the context of business. They feel like they have hit a bit of a plateau and are restricted in their ability to move their business forward.
I find it fascinating to note that typically when someone comes to me with this feeling of “stuck” or they report that something is impeding their business growth, we almost always find that the “stuck” extends out to most arenas in their life.
I can’t tell you how many times when talking to a business leader we end up spending a fair amount of time talking about their personal relationships. Almost always it ends with a “Well, I really didn’t expect that we would go down that path!”
For many visionary leaders there comes a time in their life where they feel overwhelmed. They feel defeated with the sheer enormity of what they want to bring to the world. The weight of the task at hand becomes crippling at times so they stick with the tried and true. They stay with what they know or at least what they think they know. The challenge of course is the well known quote “If you continue to do what you have always done you will continue to get what you’ve always got.”
And that my friends is exactly what “stuck” feels like.
Add to that the feelings of anxiety, depression and our desire to avoid difficult emotions, it can become very easy to get caught up in a cycle of avoidance and procrastination. Stuck might include a fear of success, it might include a fear of failure, it might include a longing so large that it seems impossible, causing indecision and paralysis of action.
How do we break out of stuck?
Motivation follows action. For me there have been many times where I have sought to cultivate motivation in order to inspire me to take action. I spend time reading texts, listening to speeches and digesting words of wisdom from gurus around the world.
There are certainly days where I feel ill equipped to carry on my mission. There are times where I feel like I just need to learn a little bit more. That I need just a little more training, knowledge or expertise to move forward.
There is this feeling of imposter syndrome. Often accompanied by the question “Who the fuck am I to think I can do this?” Or “Who am I to think that people will care about what I have to say or what my vision is?” Surely I need to be better before I can proceed.
While there are times when you need to enhance skills, this line of thinking can also very easily contribute to the “stuckness” by giving us a justifiable place to spend our time. After all, we are taking in knowledge, we are learning and we are growing. Certainly that is a worthwhile endeavor right?
Sure. Maybe. Well, no not really.
My guess is that you likely have all the knowledge you need to get unstuck and what you really need is to take action. It took me a long time to realize that it isn’t motivation that drives action but rather action that drives motivation. Seeking motivation is simply another form of procrastination. In his book The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield talks about Resistance, that mythical force that keeps you stuck.
He has a very eloquent way of defining “Resistance” and talks about how ‘Seeking support” can easily be just another form of resistance.
“Seeking support from friends and family is like having people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye”
In my experience, “stuck” rarely has anything to do with a lack of knowledge, resources, or preparation and almost always has to do with a lack of action. It is not about looking for external resources, conditions or information. It is all about our internal discipline.
What can we do?
Once we realize and accept that “stuckness” is internal then we can start to make change. As my friend and editor, who is a Canadian living in the southern United States reminded me, being stuck feels like spinning your wheels. It feels like being caught in a heavy Canadian snowfall with nothing but summer tires on your vehicle. It doesn’t matter how hard you tromp on the gas pedal your tires just spin faster and faster.
In order to break out of being stuck in a snowstorm it means that we need to first off slow down. If you’ve read or listened to any of my other work this may be starting to sound familiar to you. The first piece of almost any puzzle is to slow the F down. In our snowstorm analogy taking your foot off the gas is the first thing that needs to happen. When we talk about this in the context of being stuck in a snowstorm it immediately makes sense. It doesn’t matter how hard you push the gas pedal, all you do is spin faster.
Most of us have been in this situation at one point or another in our lives. However when it comes to business, life and what we want to accomplish, this idea of taking our foot off the gas is incredibly counterintuitive. I mean certainly if you want to move forward faster you need to be working harder, doing more not less right?
The reality is that this is not at all the case and in fact just like spinning your tires in the snow the harder we work, the more we push, the deeper the rut that we are stuck in starts to become. This is what makes “stuck” feel all the more frustrating.
“It doesn’t make any sense!” “I’m working harder than ever, why am I not moving forward??!!”
Sometimes when we are stuck it isn’t even just that we need to take our foot off the gas, but sometimes we actually need to put the car into reverse. Sometimes we need to put a little backward momentum into our efforts.
If you’ve ever been stuck in a Canadian snowstorm you likely know this well. There’s this art to putting the car in reverse and then back to drive. Creating a rocking motion. Slowly but surely starting to build some momentum so that you can eventually move far enough forward that you are out of the rut and back on solid ground.
Why do we get stuck?
Once we start to slow down we can really take a look at where this stuck feeling is coming from. I am cautious writing these words since much of “stuck” for me can be perpetuated with over analysis. Don’t spend a lot of time here but see if any of these resonate with you.
Stuck can come when we start to play a role in our life, when we stop being authentic and we try to live the kind of life that we think others feel we should be living.
Stuck can also be a result of being held back. Your environment. What is the environment that you have created for yourself? Who is it that you are surrounding yourself with? Is it time to reevaluate all of that?
What are you committed to? Who are you committed to? Are these commitments moving you forward or are they holding you back? Is it time to reevaluate what and who you are committed to?
These are incredibly difficult questions to really look at with open and honest eyes. It is really hard to have a deep, honest look in the mirror. The truth is that often “stuck” is a result of our reluctance to look at what is holding us back. The truth is that if we were to actually admit what is keeping us stuck, we might have to make some difficult decisions. So instead of having an honest look at ourselves we avoid and distract.
In business I have seen this in the form of ignoring employees whom we really like but truly are not a fit for the role they are in. Maybe if we have an honest look in the mirror in a business context it means we need to adjust our budget, or have a difficult conversation with a supplier, competitor, colleague or boss.
In personal life there are many things that might be keeping us stuck. Do we need to improve our physical, mental or emotional fitness? That takes time, effort and commitment.
Do we need to cut some people out of our lives? Do we need to stop drinking, gambling, overeating?
These are all incredibly difficult decisions we have to make and even once we make them we have to have the discipline to see it through. When we find ourselves “stuck” it is often because we are not willing to have honest conversations about these decisions that need to be made.
Before I wrap things up, I want to talk about one of the biggest reasons people remain “stuck” by choice. Even when they have identified the thing that is keeping them stuck it can still be hard to move forward for this one major reason. I have had this conversation with dozens, if not hundreds of people.
Sunk cost fallacy
The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.
In other words, the more time and energy we have invested into a course of action, a relationship or a certain direction the harder it becomes to abandon. This happens because no matter how logical we like to think we are, our decisions are heavily influenced by our emotions. Feelings of guilt, regret or even shame if we do not follow through with a decision influence our desire to stick with it even if that decision no longer serves us.
Sunk Cost Fallacy is tied to commitment bias where we continue to support past decisions despite new evidence that the decision may not be the appropriate one.
As I write this I realize I could easily write an entire book on what it feels like to be stuck, and how to move forward out of the “stuckness”. I hope that this article has given you a little food for thought and I will leave you with another Stephen Pressfield quote from “The War of Art”.
“It’s not the writing that is hard. It’s the sitting down to write.”
Pressfield is speaking in the context of writing however this statement can be applied to any course of action. It’s not the doing of the thing that is hard, it is starting doing the thing that is hard. That being the case then let’s make sure our energy is focused on starting the thing.
If you take nothing else from this article then take this, motivation follows action. Therefore action is the most important piece. You don’t need any more skill, you don’t need any more knowledge, you don’t need any more support, you simply need to take action.
If you have a list of 1000 things you need to do and don’t know where to start, simply close your eyes and point at the list. The item you land on is where you start. Don’t second guess, just sit down and get it done.
It’s now been six years since I heard those three little words that would change my life. The three words that would shape my future and become a large part of my legacy.
“Karissa is dead.”
That’s it. That was all he said and my world was forever changed.
A wound so deep that I wondered if it would ever heal. But like most wounds they eventually heal. They heal but depending on the depth of the wound they leave a permanent scar.
Our scars shape us.
We can try to ignore them, we can wear them like a victim or we can wear them with pride.
On October 2, 2021, the sixth anniversary of her murder I took the time to drive out to the mountains. I made the three hour trek to Nordegg and went for a hike up Coliseum Mountain. I have made a journey to be out in nature on most of the anniversaries since that fateful day.
October 2 for me is not so much about grieving the loss as it is about celebrating life. It is a time to reflect on the lessons learned and to look at how this scar informs my view of the world. It is about reflecting how I can use this scar to affect change in others.
I didn’t have a choice to carry this scar or not, however, I do have a choice in how I let it shape me. October 2 is the day each year where I spend some time getting intentional about how this wound shapes the man I am today. It is about reflecting on the man I am as well as planning for the man I want to be.
Our scars shape us.
Scars are a permanent part of who we are and absolutely impact how we show up in this world.
When I was 16 my parents shipped me off to Australia to live with my Uncle John. I was way out of control. A teenager in full rebellion and Mom and Dad did not know what to do with me. Fortunately Mom’s brother John was a successful businessman. He was someone who I respected as a rebel done good. I thought Uncle John viewed the world a little closer to how I did. Uncle Johnny taught me a lot about the value of hard work.
It was there in Australia where I earned my first major physical scar. I was in the backseat of a new found friend’s car. Stereo blaring, engine roaring, driving way too fast for the slick road conditions caused by a torrential rain storm. The windy road, an inexperienced driver, and slick conditions all a recipe for disaster.
I was young and invincible so I sat in the middle of the backseat leaning up through the bucket seats so I could be part of the action. Life was good. Laughter abound. New friends, loud music, fast cars…
And then there was the telephone pole. Tires releasing their grip on the pavement. Young driver overcorrecting, car flying out of control sideways into the pole. 100 to zero in an instant. With no seat belt on I got the worst of it. Thrown around like a rag doll. Broken ribs, crushed lung, ruptured spleen causing internal bleeding requiring emergency surgery.
The final toll, 4 days in a coma, a bunch of broken ribs, a crushed lung, a ruptured spleen and a scar from belly button to sternum where they ripped me open to repair the damaged organs. A reminder I see every day of my life.
Our scars shape us.
In my life I have had many different scars of various shapes and sizes. All of us have. Some more, some less, it doesn’t matter. Now is not the time for comparison. Now is the time for reflection. Now is the time to get curious about your scars. Now is the time to learn from them and wear them with pride.
What are your scars? How do you feel about our scars? Do you resent them? Do you deny them? Do you own them? What meaning will you give to them?
These are all questions that I reflect on every year at this time. Every year I renew my commitment to “Make Beautiful Shit Happen” and make sure that I am continuing down a path that is worthy of the man this deeply scarred human being wants to be.
Two years ago I brought this topic to my Men’s group as a theme for the night. I asked the men to reflect on the scars that have shaped them. We talked about how to make sure that we own our scars and how we can ensure that our scars do not own us. It all comes down to this simple truism.
With awareness comes choice.
The scars I described above are fairly large and glaringly obvious. They are pretty hard to ignore. However for many of us we work hard to ignore the scars that wound us. They are too painful to acknowledge so we go about our daily lives allowing them to simmer under the surface quietly influencing our decisions, our behaviors and ultimately our outcomes in life. They become the subtle forces that silently guide us.
Every scar has a story, every story a purpose. Sometimes the meaning in those stories is abundantly evident, other times it can feel like there cannot be any possible meaning that would inflict such pain.
“For your pain is Rachel’s legacy to you. Not that she or I would inflict such pain by choice, but there it is. And it must burn its purifying way to completion. For something in you dies when you bear the unbearable, and it is only in that dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees, and to love as God loves.”
Your scars are the living legacy of who you are. They are the roadmap of your past, your present and they will shape your future.
The question becomes will you get intentional with how your scars shape you? Or will you let them whisper softly in your ear, so gently that we can ignore their influence and live a life by default rather than by design.
What are some of the scars that shape you?
How do those scars impact how you show up in the world?
Where can you be more intentional about how those scars move you through life?